Welcoming The Stranger: At Camp And During Sukkot
Breaking bread with friends around the table… Telling stories surrounded by trees… Cozy under blankets watching for shooting stars… Learning something new from every person we meet… These are the summer moments from camp that we hold onto as we head into the fall season. But, they are also reminiscent of special traditions during the holiday of Sukkot, which begins at sundown tonight.
In many ways, Sukkot is to the Jewish year, what camp is to our year. During the days leading up to Sukkot, we build a sukkah, a temporary hut. Just like our bunk at camp for the summer, we decorate our sukkah to make it “home” for the week.
In his upcoming op-ed in The Jewish Standard, Jeremy Fingerman, FJC’s CEO, reminds us that on Sukkot, it is mitzvah to practice hakhnasat orekim (hospitality to guests) and welcome guests and even strangers to share in the abundance of the sukkah. In Jewish tradition, these guests are also known as the “Ushpizin”. Originating with Lurianic Kabbalah, the idea of Ushpizin is for us to invite guests into the sukkah each night. Each of the Ushpizin has a unique lesson to teach us from Kabbalah’s Sefirot, like wonder, perseverance, and kindness.
At camp, it is also our custom to welcome guests into our camp community every summer. From new campers and staff members to our parents on visiting day, we welcome lots of different people through the gates each summer.
An excellent example of this is our international staff. Whether they are coming from Europe, Israel or New Zealand, these staff members travel thousands of miles to come to camp and enrich our summer. With diverse backgrounds and a fresh perspective, they teach us to appreciate the wonder in new experiences, to persevere through cultural and language differences in order to make a connection with people, and treat the people we meet with kindness. They become our counselors, friends, mentors, supervisors, and, even in some cases, our soulmates.
In the words of our CEO, “International staff is integral to the culture of Jewish camp. These wonderful team members make an impact on our campers — broadening horizons, sharing cultures, and adding new energy, languages and perspectives to our community.”
Unfortunately, their presence at our camps is uncertain, this upcoming summer and summers following. International staff members are able to come to the US on the J-1 Visa. Right now, the future of the J-1 Visa hangs in the balance, specifically, the Summer Camp Work Travel and Camp Counselor visa programs, due to the White House’s Presidential Executive Order on Buy American and Hire American, which was signed in April.
We need your help to protect the future of this important program. Take action here!
May we continue to welcome and learn from others this Sukkot and summer.